NEW ORLEANS - Over BP's objections, a federal appeals court today upheld a judge's approval of the company's multibillion-dollar settlement with lawyers for businesses and residents who claim the massive 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico cost them money.
BP has argued that U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier and court-appointed claims administrator Patrick Juneau have misinterpreted settlement terms in ways that would force the London-based oil giant to pay for billions of dollars in inflated or bogus claims by businesses.
During a hearing in November before a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, a BP lawyer argued that Barbier's December 2012 approval of the deal shouldn't stand unless the company ultimately prevails in its ongoing dispute over business payments.
But the divided panel ruled today that Barbier did not err by failing to determine more than a year ago whether the class of eligible claimants included individuals who haven't actually suffered any injury related to the spill.
Affirming Barbier's initial ruling in 2012, the court said in its 48-page majority opinion that it can't agree with arguments raised by BP and others who separately objected to the settlement.
"No case cited by BP or the Objectors suggests that a district court must also safeguard the interests of the defendant, which in most settlements can protect its own interests at the negotiating table," the ruling says.
The majority rejected BP's request for the panel to "find an intraclass conflict of interest because the claimants allegedly include persons and entities that have suffered no injury."
"In support of this allegation, BP presents us with a series of economists' declarations that had not been provided to the district court when the class was certified," the ruling says.